Fullsteam celebrates fifth anniversary with three-day shindig

Time flies when you're brewing beer.

Fullsteam Brewery in Durham is celebrating its five-year anniversary this week with celebrations and throwbacks to pints of the past.

Over the three-day shindig—“Five Years of Brewing, Three Days of Awesome"—patrons can engage in a lip-sync battle, Fullsteam trivia, live DJ, a hoedown and a pumpkin spice recipe competition. Happy hours each day will also re-release original Fullsteam beers from years past.

“I’m hopeful that after five years, we’re going to work to become an institution and part of Durham’s fabric,” said Sean Lilly Wilson, Fullsteam founder and CEO.

The kickoff event Thursday will have a community focus, Wilson said, including cider sampling from Foggy Ridge Cider in Virginia—whose apple pomace has been used as an ingredient in Fullsteam beers. Food samples from Highland Avenue restaurant in Hickory, N.C. and wines from Fair Game Beverage Co. in Pittsboro N.C will be available on Thursday.

And—beer geeks rejoice—the brewery’s original Imperial Stout Igor will be released as a bottle in all three versions, Igor, Senor Igor and Son of Igor.

“It’s a little bit about us but also about the community of food and beverage makers that we’re happy are joining us,” Wilson said.

Since opening its current space at 726 Rigsbee Ave. five years ago, Fullsteam has tripled its brewing capacity, adding more tanks to the site as well as a bottling line. As the manufacturing capacity has expanded, it has grown to push the edges of the space’s capacity.

“We’re not bursting at the seams, but we’re close to it on the manufacturing side,” Wilson said.

In five years, Fullsteam has stuck to its underlying mission the brewery’s operations. Brian Mandeville, Fullsteam’s head brewer since last December, said that Fullsteam is unique in that its ingredients directly reflect the mentality of the business. He explained that the emphasis on local ingredients means the brewery must employ more creative juices in deciding how to best utilize what they have available.

“Many breweries are afraid to do some of the things that we do,” Mandeville said. “We work with a lot of ingredients where there’s not a lot of conventional wisdom of how best to work with them. We have to experiment a little bit more and do things that are a little bit riskier.”

Ingredients on Fullsteam’s current menu include sweet potatoes, basil and honey.

Mandeville said he works with farmers within three miles for the Summer Basil beer, and that “everybody wins” when those relationships are formed. Although the cost of local, unprocessed ingredients is higher, Mandeville said the cost feeds into an economic system where both the farmers and the brewery can eventually grow more in the long run.

“It means that when you buy a Fullsteam beer, some if it is going back to the farmers,” Mandeville said. “We absorb some of that cost because we believe in it.”

Beyond the brews, Fullsteam is known for its Thursday night trivia and a diverse lineup of events including yoga classes, dog walks, comedy shows and concerts and a continuous rotation of food trucks parked outside.

“At the tavern we celebrate ‘beautiful/stupid’—the best things in life are beautiful and stupid,” Wilson said.

In the last five years, some of the most memorable and unusual events, Wilson said, include a Christmas pageant in 2011 called “A Very Merry Durham”; the annual Point 262 “Marathon”; and a bad movie trailer competition.

“It ended up being hilarious,” he said of the latter. “It was a muggy June night at 10 o’clock, a younger crowd with tons of energy and nonstop laughter.”

The space remains split between a bar room and an open, warehouse-like space with stacks of board games lining the walls, pinball and ping-pong and a stage for shows under a festively lit hanging star.

“I think it reflects Durham’s diversity and its welcoming attitude…. We want people to know it and feel it as they come in,” Wilson said. “We may not always hit it, but I think we do pretty darn good.”

Other landmarks include the First Frost persimmon ale being awarded a 2013 Good Food Award, gold medals at the 2012, 2013 and 2014 U.S. Beer Opens, and five years straight of being Independent Weekly’s Best Local Brewery.

There is no five-year plan for Fullsteam as it sits, but Wilson said they’re exploring options venture out further and to produce beer that meets the demand of customers.

“Our goal is to be a landmark brewery for the South,” he said. “We’re proud of five years but we’re just getting started.”


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